Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust announced they have earned national re-accreditation through the prestigious Land Trust Accreditation Commission program.
“It’s a lot of work but it’s worth the effort because it’s outside validation that we’re operating efficiently, effectively, and responsibly,” said HCLT Development Director Julie Schott. “By nature, ours is a perpetual organization. We have the responsibility to sustain our properties forever.”
Since its founding more than 100 years ago, the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust (HCLT), originally known as the Highlands Improvement Society, has pursued the highest degree of professionalism as it conserves and cares for vital lands, water, wildlife, recreational opportunities and important viewing areas of the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau. However, resting on tradition is not the approach taken by this historic conservation organization.
In 2008, the Land Trust Alliance designed a program that officially recognizes a land trust as a national leader in land protection. The land trust accreditation program identifies land trusts that meet national quality standards for protecting and caring for important lands.
The accreditation process includes an extensive review of each applicant’s policies and programs by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the LTA. The program was developed to foster public confidence in land conservation and help ensure the long-term protection of land. To learn more about the LTA accreditation process click HERE.
In 2013, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust was among the first 10% of all land trusts to achieve this distinction. Accreditation lasts for five years, so in 2018, HCLT underwent the re-accreditation process and remain among the growing number or accredited land trust nationwide. Approximately 30% of land trusts in the United States are currently accredited.
HCLT Stewardship Coordinator Kyle Pursel did much of the heavy lifting in terms of providing all the necessary information to the LTA. The first time he went through this process it took him over a year to gather the necessary information. He said it was a quicker the second time around having finished it around three months. After HCLT was re-accredited, the LTA used some of HCLT’s policies and procedures as examples for other land trusts on how to operate.
“They didn’t have any suggestions for us to change anything and said we went above and beyond on a couple of things,” said Pursel. “So now they’re using us as examples for others.”
LTA is highlighting HCLT’s resolution of an issue involving a syndicated property and HCLT’s method of documenting potential projects. After HCLT received re-accreditation Pursel had reason to celebrate.
“It was very relieving and satisfying,” he said. “I spent a lot of time last winter grabbing documents and files, I’m glad it’s done.”
Land trusts and the lands they protect for their communities are increasingly important. These local and regional nonprofits around the country help communities meet their goals for protecting clean water, farms, forests, and public recreation areas.
“Passing the 420 mark for accredited land trusts is significant,” said Tammara Van Ryn, executive director of the Commission. “There are now more accredited land trusts than there are national parks, monuments and historic sites. By earning this distinction, these land trusts have proven they can effectively steward the nearly 20 million acres of land under their care.
Schott said through the rigorous accreditation process, HCLT is advancing its commitment to excellence. Becoming an accredited land trust is an objective affirmation that HCLT meets national standards, upholds the public trust, and ensures that its conservations are permanent.
In 2018, HCLT conserved six new properties that will protect the quality of the water we drink as well as healthy habitat for many of the plants and animals that live on the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau. New projects are already in the works for 2019.
The mission of HCLT is to protect valuable land resources for all generations. To learn more about your land trust or how you can be involved click HERE or call 828-526-1111.
Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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